Café Lingua is an international and intercultural language exchange event that began in Helsinki in 2005. We gather every week to practise speaking in different languages, with both Finns and foreigners living in the Helsinki region. At the moment, the meetings are in Café Mascot (Neljäs linja 2) in Kallio, Helsinki, every Monday 7 pm onwards. Join us!
Facebook group: Cafe Lingua in Helsinki
As a student of English and other languages, one of my aspirations has always been to become a fluent speaker of all the foreign languages that I have studied. I’ve always loved speaking in different languages, discussing the cultural differences, wondering why one language has a future tense and the other one doesn’t. In the early 2000s, I was involved with organising programme for foreign students with the Erasmus Student Network (ESN-HYY) at the University of Helsinki, and in a National Platform meeting in 2004, I heard about the idea of a language café, where Finnish and foreign students gathered together to practise speaking the different languages that they are studying. I thought it was a brilliant idea.
That’s how it started. I found a location, sent out emails, and in the first meetings in the beginning of 2005 we had more than 40 people show up. I started taking registrations for a while, but stopped after it got too time-consuming. We changed locations several times, every six months, from Vanha ylioppilastalo to Café Lasipalatsi, Teerenpeli, Café Esplanadi, Bar Bangog (later PRKL). There seemed to be neverending problems with each location – either participants didn’t purchase enough drinks, there was an age-limit, the places were too crowded or too noisy… However, especially Café Lasipalatsi and Café Esplanadi served the purpose fairly well. In 2010, Café Lingua made its home in Café Mascot in Hakaniemi, which is a spacious and friendly bar.
In addition to ESN-HYY, an international organisation for foreigners living and working in Helsinki – as well as for Finns interested in meeting international people – called Jolly Dragon became an integral part of the team. JD had been organising similar language meetings, and in 2008 CEO Paul James and I decided to join forces. JD has been managing the meetings, with some help from me and a few other actives, for the past few years. The Finnish-Japanese Society also has their Japanese table at the language meeting, often with great success.
As an idea, Café Lingua is well-known all over the world. There are similar meetings in most countries through different organisations. While I was living in Germany, Berlin, I attended a language meeting organised by Couchsurfing. The meetings were very similar to the ones in Helsinki, with regular as well as sporadic attendees and varying popularity. I have also been contacted by organisations with different kinds of language exchange or tandem websites, such as http://www.lingua2.eu/ .
There have been small features on Café Lingua in Ylioppilaslehti as well as 6Degrees. However, I wanted to share my own story on the labour pains of Café Lingua, which – like anything one has put a lot of time and effort into – has brought me much trouble but many, many times more pleasure. In addition to practising my favourite language with native speakers, as well as helping others with their Finnish and English, I have made many friends and met very interesting people through Café Lingua. As biased as I admit I am, I highly recommend you give our language learning community a chance.
The purpose of this blog is to share ideas, experiences and photos of the language exchange – either Café Lingua in Helsinki or other events you have participated in. Please
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